Best regards, Johnby David Gassko
March 30, 2009
Last Tuesday, THT lost one of our favorite people in the world, not just a great writer, but a great jokester, a great sparring writer, and a great friend—John Brattain. John was never without an opinion or a joke, and we loved him for both, no matter how groan-worthy some of them were.
In 2006, before Alex Rodriguez had a $275 million contract and before he had admitted to using steroids, Tom Verducci published a much-publicized column in Sports Illustrated discussing A-Rod’s pretty boy image in the tough guy world of baseball. As soon as I read that column, I knew I wanted a response, but I wasn’t quite sure what it was. So I e-mailed John, asking him to write about it: “While I'm not going to give you the satisfaction of an actual compliment,” I wrote, “I will say that you have the ability to take these kinds of issues on with a very good and interesting perspective.”
Indeed, he did. John had already written his column for the week, but he sat down that day and wrote another one. Two days after my initial e-mail, John had written a customarily lengthy column, and he nailed it perfectly. By the time I was done reading it, John’s opinion had become mine—he could be a very convincing writer, especially when he was right.
Then again, I had always respected John as a writer, even when I didn’t agree with him. After seeing him respond so quickly, and with so much thought, to my request, I learned what kind of a person John was: always willing to help, always willing to share, always willing to listen. I’ll miss him a lot.
That’s my remembrance; here are some others. If you ever read John’s work and enjoyed it, or even if you didn’t, please also consider donating to The John Brattain Memorial Fund, which you can read more about here.
Chris Jaffe: When I heard that John died I felt HORRIBLE. It's really hard to explain why. I never met him, and never spoke to him on the phone. Hell, I'm not sure how you pronounce his last name.
John Brattain was a rare breed. He could disagree with someone without ever being disagreeable. That sounds easy, but few are able to pull it off in real life, and even fewer on the internet. John did it all the time, though.
He could be passionate about an issue and make his points very clearly, yet even if you disagreed with him you would never be offended by him.
My first reaction upon hearing his death was to mourn. However, anyone who encountered John would know mourning is the last thing he'd want people to do. He once noted that if he died, he hoped Primer would have a long thread full of jokes. That's largely what happened over at the thread on his death.
In an attempt to balance the desire to mourn with his desire to avoid mourning, I'll remember some of my favorite Brattain moments.
I first encountered him as a poster at Baseball Primer seven years ago (Christ, it's been that long?). He distinguished himself as the funniest guy in town. My personal favorites were he used to produce a series of Top Ten lists. My personal favorite was this one:
Top 10 ways you know that you're too much into sabermetrics:
- 10. You don't care if your kid gets A's B's or C's on his report card, you just want to know how high he is above the class average.
- 9. When your wife asks "So....how was it?" You reply: "Don't know—too small a sample size."
- 8. You dismiss your kid's terrific report card as a "career semester."
- 7. When making a decision, you ask yourself "What would Bill James do?"
- 6. When cut off in traffic, you don't yell: "YOU S.O.B!!" You yell: "YOU E.I.B!!!"
- 5. You've tried to adopt Jeremy Giambi.
- 4. You think chicks are turned on by your BP 2003 tee-shirt.
- 3. Your wife doesn't threaten you with walking out. She threatens you with striking out, grounding out, or flying out.
- 2. You've sent a Valentine to Derek Zumsteg.
- 1. Your idea of sexy lingerie for your wife is a red plaid flannel shirt.
Some of those jokes are dated (E. I. B. refers to a then widely-quoted—at least on primer—remark by Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus that Americans were a bunch of "economically illiterate bitches") but the whole thing is funny.
He was the master of the one-liner. A sample came in this thread. You can read over his posts under the user name "The Bones McCoy of THT" and enjoy numerous jokes he made throughout.
While he made his mark as a humorist, it's worth noting that he was simply a fantastic writer. The jokes got my attention, but I'd read his serious stuff (there and here) as well. A lot of warmth came over in everything he wrote. A sense that this was a good person who genuinely liked life and his fellow humans.
That's why it's so hard to hear that he died so young.
Steve Treder: This new-fangled modern-day worldwide internet doohickey is something, isn’t it.
Not until at least a couple of years of writing a weekly column on THT did I meet any of my fellow THTers in person. Until then, our entire correspondence had been via website and email, and with the exceedingly rare telephone call mixed in. It’s only been through the miracle of SABR conventions that I’ve since had the opportunity to actually, you know, physically meet and shake hands with (and drink beer with and all such) any of these partners-in-crime. And to this day I’ve still never been in the same place at the same time as many if not most of the folks who write for, edit, and administer this website.
And yet it’s all good. THT flourishes with each of us huddling at our remote corner of the planet, our communications flashing back and forth at the speed of light. Even with the modes of interaction limited to blog posts and email messages, it seems as though we “know” each other. We share ideas, trade jokes, have arguments, make up, and so on. All the stuff we would do if we were working together in an actual physical office. (Well, almost. We still haven’t figured out how to do the drinking beer part online.)
And of all the folks I never actually met, but only had this electronic relationship, the one I felt I got to know the best, and the one I liked the most, was John Brattain. There was just something about the way he could put words and thoughts and emotions onto a computer screen that was amazing. He was hysterically funny, as everyone knows, but he was at the same time sensitive, patient, tolerant, generous, and wise. He established a standard for interaction (both virtual and in-person) that I’ll strive to match, while realizing I’ll generally fail.
It’s impossible to convey how much I’ll miss John Brattain. He was one of the most exceptional people I’ve had the pleasure to know.
Richard Barbieri: Last Wednesday I sent out an e-mail on our internal list that I was taking the week off. Our previews were running and (modest guy that I am) I didn't want a column of mine to get lost in the shuffle. John responded in the classic Brattain manner: he came up with a pun that was a little bit dirty, a little bit funny and a lot groan-worthy.
If you wrote for THT, you had at least once been on the receiving end of one of John's little jabs. And if you were lucky, you managed to fire back every once in a while. On this one, I had to admit John had gotten the better of me, so I said nothing at all. I thought nothing of it, I was sure there would be plenty more coming my way from John, and maybe a couple heading back.
I don’t regret not sending anything back, though. I do regret never telling him how much I admired his unwillingness to drop his principled stand on Barry Bonds, even if I didn't agree with it 100 percent. Or his writing about the Blue Jays, where John refused to pick between “passionate” and “informed.”
I really wish I'd taken time to tell him that my Dad, who is known to make one-word pronouncements on the statistical articles here ("impenetrable" is a popular choice, “indecipherable” a close second) always had a real opinion on what John had to say.
But I don’t regret not continuing our battle of wits. John had the last laugh, and that’s just the way it should be. It was just a last laugh that came way, way too soon.
John Beamer: As I sit here and reflect on the tragic news words fail me. The irony is that the one person who was never short of words was John.
To say John was the heart and soul of the THT is a bit like saying that Elvis pumped out some a memorable tune or two. No. He was the King. John's passion was uplifting, his enthusiasm boundless and his humor dangerously enthralling. For that and all he has brought to this site and the baseball community in general I'm forever grateful.
He will be missed. He won't be forgotten. GO JAYS.
Dave Studeman: I sometimes worry that The Hardball Times can sound a bit homogeneous. Many of our writers come from the same perspective, even share the same sort of voice. Not John Brattain. John's voice was distinct and singular, and he made sure that THT didn't fall into the trap of sounding like one person writing under a different name every day.
John was the Baseball Populist. Every week, he lit into baseball's ownership elite, people like Bud Selig, Jeff Loria and David Samson. He hated the inner circle that seems to hover around baseball's cartel of teams, and he let us know it. Sometimes, you rolled your eyes, knowing what John was going to say. But he was always new, always inventive, always ironic and funny. You read his latest rant just to see how he could more inventively disparage the lords of the realm.
John was also someone who didn't accept the accepted wisdom of sabermetricians. His anti-analytic arguments sometimes rubbed people the wrong way (particularly the sabermetricians) but his tone of voice never did. He was always somehow gentle yet pointed, serious yet funny. John's voice was unlike that of any other THT writer, ever. I hope we find another like it, but I doubt we will.
John was consistently funny, polite and giving, unlike anyone else I have run across on the Internet. John believed deeply in God and had unwavering faith. John also had a potty mouth.
All of us enjoyed our exchanges with John. He once wrote in an article that "sabermetrics lost its way when it went from a verb to a noun." In the accompanying comments, I kidded him, saying that "our editors aren't surprised you think that sabermetrics is both a verb and a noun." He didn't immediately reply, but his next article repeated the same accusation, adding in parentheses "(It's a metaphor, Dave!)."
I will always appreciate that John loved THT, believed in it and devoted so much energy to it.
When they talk about the Internet, they talk about servers and browsers and SQL and PHP and how all of those technical things can lead to new types of online communitites, ones in which people come together in ways not possible before all of those technical things.
But communities gather around personalities, not machines. The quality of a community isn't set by the quality of the software. It is set by the quality of the people.
If John was a member of your online baseball community, it was going to be witty and vital. On-line or in person, good software or bad, John's presence set the tone for everyone else. His involvement with Baseball Think Factory, Baseball Digest Daily and other places I don't even know about made them the standards we all should aspire to.
When things get too stressful for you, when you feel like taking things out on someone, just say to yourself, "Best Regards, John." And remember.
Geoff Young: We lost one of the good guys. I am proud to have called John Brattain a colleague these past several years at THT and Baseball Daily Digest.
Although I never met John in person, we "talked" on a regular basis through various mailing lists or directly via email. His presence was unmistakable, his voice unique. When you read John's work or exchanged words with him, there was never any doubt as to who was speaking. He was utterly and completely himself, which is a lot harder than it sounds.
John spoke his mind. He was passionate about baseball and had a wicked sense of humor that helped remind us not to take it all too seriously.
I always appreciated his skepticism of sabermetric orthodoxy. John had a definite thirst for knowledge, but he refused to align himself with a particular line of thinking just because it happened to be in vogue. He and I had some good discussions on the limitations of our knowledge and understanding, which invariably left me with much to ponder.
On a more personal note, John encouraged me to keep going when I doubted my own abilities as a writer, which is something I struggle with constantly. John picked me up not only by setting a great example of what can be accomplished if you put your mind to a task and pursue it with passion and integrity, but also by taking the time to help dust me off when I fell, give me a slap on the back, and get me moving in the right direction again. I won't soon forget that.
Probably the best compliment I can offer John is this: I wish I'd known him better. There aren't too many people I can say that about, but John is one of them. RIP, my friend. Thanks for everything.
Sal Baxamusa: I was shocked when I heard that John had died, then I was sad. First, I was sad for John. That quickly passed. John made the best of any situation, and if such things as souls exist, his is surely having a laugh. Then I felt sad for his family. I'm sure they miss his love, wisdom, and wit already. Next, I felt sad for anybody who read anything that he wrote. They will miss his power to touch, tickle, and—when crossed—torch.
Finally, I felt sad for myself. I'm really going to miss John, and I don't know if I can put a finer point on it. I wrote an article for THT once that included the lines, "Ah, the Cubbies. Those lovable little losers are stinking up the joint again after having spent more money than...well, suffice to say, if I were John Brattain the analogy would be so apt and funny that you would be laughing right now. Trust me." I feel that way right now. John Brattain would have something so apt and funny to say about his own death that I feel cheated that I won't get to hear it.
Best Regards, John.
Once more, please consider donating to The John Brattain Memorial fund. John leaves behind a wife and two daughters, who will receive all the proceeds from your donation.
David Gassko is a former consultant to a major league team. He welcomes comments via e-mail.